Alfred W. “Fred” Jones, 1927–2019
By Webster Bull
Fred Jones didn’t run four-ball breaks usually. His three-ball was so precise, so deadly, that why bother? A master of the American 6-wicket game, Fred said that carrying a fourth ball around the lawn only increased the risk-reward ratio. If you broke down, worse news. Except that Fred never broke down. Not against this writer, anyway.
Last winter, the co-founder of the largest public croquet club in America sidled up to me and, with his customary combination of sass and tenderness, said, “You know, you never beat me.” By then, it was too late for revenge. Going on 92, undergoing dialysis nine hours a night but still vital, Fred played only doubles in competition during his last years. In tournaments they entered together Fred was happy to let Jackie drive. His wife and co-founder of the Sarasota County Croquet Club in Venice, Florida, Jackie Jones told Fred Jones what to do and Fred Jones did it. Perfectly.
Fred Jones died on November 26, 2019, on an otherwise perfect day for him. He was at the club, taught a clinic in morning, played a little, and presided over the weekly Attitude Adjustment meeting, where he was his usual sharp, witty self. He had dinner at home with his bride of 33 years and died peacefully while watching a movie on TV. At the memorial service the following week, scores of fellow croquet players showed up in white. Mourning on the inside, they expressed joy and solidarity on the outside, remembering Fred Jones as championship croquet player, teacher, model, and beloved friend.
Alfred W. Jones was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Tufts University College of Engineering. He served on active duty in the US Navy during the Korean War, and after 31 years’ service retired from the US Naval Reserve with the rank of Captain. In the Reserves, he had command of a training ship and headed Reserve Mine Division 21. As a civilian, he retired from the Micro Switch Division of Honeywell.
Fred discovered the American game in the 1980s in Newport, Rhode Island. Jackie has the story: Still dating, not married to Jackie yet, Fred played backyard 9-wicket with Jackie’s two sons, who, she says, were constantly changing the rules on Fred. Certain that there must be a rulebook somewhere, Fred attended a tournament with Jackie at the Newport Casino Croquet Club, where they walked in on Deb Prentis taking on Bob Kroeger—which impressed Jackie as much as Fred. Soon Fred was taking lessons from Kroeger.
Fred, Kroeger said, was a natural: “He had one of the best single-ball shots of anyone; he could make roquets like it was going out of style.” Fred became involved helping Foxy Carter, then regional vice-president of the USCA and later its second president. Fred put up a shingle as a croquet pro and began running a popular Labor Day tournament at the Casino Club. In time Fred would become deeply involved with the USCA and its management, serving on the tournament committee and as chairman of the American-rules handicapping committee.
In the 1990s the Joneses began spending winters in Venice, Florida, while continuing their summer presence in Newport. In Venice they bought one of the first houses at a development called Waterford, where Fred convinced the developer to build two croquet courts by offering to contribute $10,000 of his own money. When Fred started hosting tourneys on the Waterford courts, he quickly grew tired of player requests not to be paired in doubles with so-and-so. Fred threw up his hands and said that nobody would have an individual doubles partner in the Waterford tournament; everyone would play with everyone else, including that miserable so-and-so. The winner would be the one who won the most games with a variety of partners. Thus, Fred Jones begat Waterford Doubles.
Fred won many tournaments and spent much of his senior life teaching and promoting the sport he loved. He directed many tournaments in Florida and across the US and Canada. He was inducted into the USCA Hall of Fame, and Jackie followed him three years later.
With Jackie in 2004, Fred partnered with the city of Venice and Sarasota County to put down the first three courts (now six courts) on county land along Pinebrook Road. In the fifteen years that followed, Sarasota County Croquet Club rightly honored Fred and Jackie Jones as its founding king and queen. The Joneses were kind to all comers, but neither brooked nonsense.
For many female croquet players, Jackie Jones has been a role model: feisty and brilliant in competition, gracious in victory or (less often) defeat. Especially in his last years, Fred seemed to be happy letting Jackie lead both on the court and off. But so many players relied on Fred’s encouragement and counsel, and the all-volunteer leadership of the club knew that Fred could be counted on for both direction and quips.
Hans Peterson, president of the club today and Fred’s eulogist at the memorial service, recalled Fred’s leadership:
“Fred excelled in helping others enjoy the sport through teaching, coaching, refereeing, and directing tournaments. He was always looking for ways to bring more people to the game and the club. One afternoon we were sitting around talking about how to better promote our tournaments, and Fred pulled out a blue cloth bag with the club logo on it. He said, ‘Why don’t we get some of these to give out? They’re less than a dollar each.’ We discussed the idea, agreeing that it had potential. To which Fred replied, ‘Good, I bought five hundred of them. Let me know when you need some.’”
One of the great measures of an organization is how it prospers after the passing of its founders. Hopefully, Jackie Jones will be with us for a good many more years, but already her and Fred’s legacy is proven. In late March 2019, the start of Fred’s last spring, the Sarasota County Croquet Club hosted the National Association Croquet Championships, the first national championship to be held on the Venice lawns, but certainly not the last. Most of the best players in the northern hemisphere were on hand to compete. One and all, they commented on the quality of the lawns, the crisp conduct of the tournament, and the kindness of some of the 200+ members of SCCC who hosted them, served them meals, and volunteered to make sure every aspect of the tournament ran smoothly. Under a new generation of leadership, headed by Hans Peterson, the future is bright at Sarasota County.
Thanks to Fred and Jackie Jones, first of all.